An annual country report published by the United States government on Monday flagged “significant human rights abuses” in India, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests or detentions, and the surveillance of civil society activists and journalists.

The report, titled India 2023 Human Rights Report and released by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, was published by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the United States’ State Department.

It said that “the outbreak of ethnic conflict” between the Kuki and Meitei ethnic communities in Manipur had resulted in “significant human rights abuses”.

The northeastern state has been reeling from an ethnic conflict between the dominant Meitei and the tribal Kuki-Zo communities since early May. The violence has left 219 persons dead and displaced 60,000 people from their homes since May 3, according to figures released by the state government in February.

“The [Indian] government took minimal credible steps or action to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses,” the report said.

It added that there were several reports that the “government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings”.

The US report cited the killing of former Samajwadi MP Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf Ahmed in April 2023 in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj. Both men were in custody in a murder case. They were shot dead from close range by three men posing as journalists while police personnel were taking them for a medical check-up.

Subsequently, the Uttar Pradesh government told the Supreme Court that the police were not at fault in the killings.

The US report also highlighted the killing of three Muslim passengers and a Railway Protection Force official on a train from Jaipur to Mumbai in July by constable Chetan Singh. Witnesses in the case had said that Singh walked through four coaches of the train to select his victims and asked them for their names before killing them.

Citing media reports, the US government report said that the family members of the three passengers had called the incident “a hate crime” and “an act of terror”.

The report also said that India had registered 813 cases of extrajudicial killings between 2016 and 2022, with the most reported in Chhattisgarh, followed by Uttar Pradesh.

The report said that there were reports of “disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities, including allegations police failed to file required arrest reports for detained persons, resulting in unresolved disappearances”.

The US government report also noted that there were “numerous reports of arbitrary arrests and several instances where police used special laws to postpone judicial reviews of arrests”. Highlighting a study by the human right group People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the report said that the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act accounted for more than 8,000 arrests between 2015 and 2020.

“There were reports of police detaining individuals for custodial interrogation without identifying themselves or providing arrest warrants,” it said.

Under the section on seizure of property and restitution, the report said: “There were numerous reports the government evicted persons from their places of residence, seized their property, or bulldozed homes and shops without due process or adequate restitution, citing illegalities in municipal rules and regulations.”

“Human rights activists reported some state governments targeted vocal critics from the Muslim community, especially after incidents of protests or communal violence, by using bulldozers to destroy their homes and livelihoods under municipal pretenses,” the report said.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of civic authorities in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states demolishing ostensibly illegal properties of those accused of crime. There are no provisions in law that provide for demolishing property as a punitive measure.

On civil liberties

In a section on the respect for civil liberties, the report noted that human rights activists had highlighted media organisations and individual journalists “expressing views critical of the government were sometimes subjected to arrest, threats, or intimidation”.

“Police were reported to have raided the workplaces and homes of journalists and seized telephones, laptops, and other devices,” it said. “There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.”

It said that there were reports from journalists and nongovernmental organisations that government officials at local and national levels had “intimidated media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, blocking communication services in some areas, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement”.

The report took note of the Indian government restricting and disrupting access to the Internet. “There were also reports the government frequently monitored users of digital media such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications.”